Africa needs a new food future in the face of spiralling food prices, chronic droughts, and unfair land policies, Oxfam said today, as it launched a new global “GROW” campaign to fix the world’s broken food system. Increasing resource constraints threaten food supplies and are fuelling competition for land, water and other resources. Decades of progress against hunger are being reversed, the agency warned in a new report, “Growing a Better Future”.

More protests and unrest are almost inevitable unless governments act to ensure that people have enough to eat, with new Oxfam research forecasting global food prices will double in the next 20 years. In many African countries prices are already at an all time high and even staple foods are unaffordable to many people. In drought-hit parts of northern Kenya, prices have risen by 60 percent in recent months.

Irungu Houghton, Oxfam’s Pan Africa Director from Kenya, said: “Africa is capable of producing enough food to ensure all of our citizens have enough to eat. Yet every night millions of people across the continent go to bed hungry. Food is about power – those with power and money can eat, those without cannot. Africa is abundant with resources, yet governments fail to invest effectively in its biggest resources – its people and its land.”

Oxfam’s campaign launches in Kenya on Independence Day and it lays out three key areas for Africa’s movement to achieve food independence and feed a growing population:

  • Stopping “land grabs” by rich nations, trans-national corporations and local elites that are giving away the key resources that the people of Africa need for food production. Women and other small-scale producers must have stronger rights to land and resources.
  • More investment and better policies to benefit women, other small-scale farmers and pastoralists. Promises of investment have often failed to materialise, or have not benefited women food producers. Small-scale producers need access to land, capital, appropriate technology and fair markets. Arid lands and pastoralist areas are often worst-hit by environmental disasters, yet continue to be neglected and under-invested.
  • Winning a global and binding deal on climate change that stops excessive greenhouse gas emissions and guarantees substantial financing of climate adaptation for Africa. Women’s voices need a greater role in negotiations ahead of COP17 in Durban this year.

Investment in food production is failing to keep step with the rise in population. The population of East Africa is forecast to grow by 50 percent over the next 20 years, yet maize production is only expected to rise by a third. Meanwhile global agricultural research and development largely ignores Africa, where investment is around three percent that of high-income nations and a fifth of that in the Asia-Pacific region.

Chronic drought has left over 8 million people in the Horn of Africa facing destitution this year in the latest of a series of crises in the region.

“Oxfam has been responding to food crises for 70 years. They are driven by the environment, but they can be mitigated by humans. It’s time for a new approach where governments invest more in preventing and coping with disasters, rather than waiting for them to strike,” said Houghton.

Land rights are of particular concern in Africa, the report found. Fertile farmland and grazing land is often given over to corporate interests and used for tourism, large-scale agriculture for exports rather than feeding local people, and biofuels. The grain required to fill the fuel tank of one 4×4 vehicle with ethanol is enough to feed one person for a year. Yet US and EU policies ensure that 10-15 percent of the world’s maize is diverted to engines, even at times of severe food crisis.

The GROW campaign is launched at the end of an African Women’s Land Rights Conference, organised in collaboration with ACORD, ActionAid, Kenya Land Alliance, GROOTS Kenya and others. Women produce much of the food we eat, yet they are often prevented from owning the land they farm, and have restricted access to markets, land and credit. With equal rights, women in Kenya, Tanzania and other African countries could increase productivity by 10-20 percent – greatly reducing hunger, child malnutrition and raising the incomes of rural people.

Oxfam’s report laid blame on rich nations and the G20, who have put the interests of big business and powerful elites above the interests of the hundreds of millions of people struggling to produce and afford food, and on a clique of 3-500 global companies who benefit from and lobby hard to maintain the world’s broken food system. Three global companies – Archer Daniels Midland, Bunge, and Cargill – control an estimated 90 percent of the world’s grain trade. Their activities help drive volatile food prices and they profit enormously from them.

Oxfam called on the African Union to lead the way to a new food future: “The AU has developed important guidelines on land policy, agricultural development and pastoralism. What matters now is how they are implemented. If they are followed, with the full participation of African civil society, they can shape a path to a food independent and food abundant African future,” said Houghton.

The GROW campaign is backed by high profile supporters including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former President Lula of Brazil, singer Angelique Kidjo, and actress Scarlett Johansson.

Archbishop Tutu said: “Many governments and companies will be resistant to change through habit, ideology or the pursuit of profit. It is up to us – you and me – to persuade them by choosing food that’s produced fairly and sustainably, by cutting our carbon footprints and by joining with Oxfam and others to demand change.”

Notes to editors:

The Maputo Declaration of 2003 saw all members of the African Union commit to increase the share of agriculture in national budgets to at least 10 percent. While food production per head has slowly risen, only a handful of countries have met the target.

Reviews of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) have revealed that national level policies remain “gender blind” and continue to disproportionately benefit men compared to women.

Change is possible: In 12 years up to 2010 Vietnam managed to halve the number of hungry people in the country. Previously a rice importer it is now the second biggest exporter in the world. The poverty rate has plummeted from 58% in 1993 to 18% in 2006. In Brazil the number of people living in hunger almost halved between 1992 and 2007, thanks largely to the government’s social policies.

Former President Lula of Brazil said: “We can’t wait anymore. Political leaders and global companies must act now to ensure that all people can put food on their table. There are no excuses. We have the capacity to feed everyone on the planet now and in the future. If the political will is there no one will be denied their fundamental right to be free from hunger.”

Angelique Kidjo said: “It would be naive to think that all businesses and governments will see the world like poor farmers overnight. It is up to us, as citizens and consumers, to open their eyes.”

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Written by Irungu Houghton

Based in Nairobi, Irungu is the Director of Oxfam's Pan Africa Programme, which works with partners across the continent to campaign and lobby governments and the African Union on everything from climate change to women's rights to access to health services.

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  1. It takes alot of determination of the gorvenments to ensure that hunger is eradicated in africa, this however is in the hands of the mwanainchi, they should vote the right representatives to ensure that critical policies are passed.

  2. It takes alot of determination of the gorvenments to ensure that hunger is eradicated in africa, this however is in the hands of the mwanainchi, they should vote the right representatives to ensure that critical policies regarding hunger eradication are passed.

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